People who live with Lyme disease face a daily battle marked by fatigue and pain. Ordinary tasks can become challenging and stressful leading some individuals to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Lyme Disease 101
First recognized in 1975 when a group of children living near Lyme, Connecticut became ill with arthritis, Lyme disease has spread to nearly all 50 states and affects approximately 16,000 individuals each year. Within a few days to several weeks after being bitten by an infected tick, 80 percent of people develop a red, circular rash around the bite according to experts at the Mayo Clinic. The center of the rash may clear as it grows giving the appearance of a bull’s-eye pattern. The rash may feel warm, but it is usually not painful or itchy. Other symptoms in the early stage of Lyme disease may include the following:
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Stiff necks
- Swollen lymph nodes
Later stages of Lyme disease can become very serious and result in debilitating and chronic symptoms that include the following:
- Arthritis in the arms and legs
- Memory loss
- Numbness in hands, arms, legs and feet
Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics taken for three to four weeks. Antibiotics are usually taken by mouth, but in severe or advanced cases of Lyme disease, they may be given by injection. If treatment begins at the early stage of the disease, a complete cure is likely. If treatment is not started until later in the progression of the disease, recovery may take longer and symptoms may last for months or even years.
Pain, Stress and Addiction: The Connection
People who struggle with stressful medical conditions such as Lyme disease are more vulnerable to addiction say scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH). In fact statistics supplied by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show that individuals with chronic pain experience substance abuse rates at two-to-four times that of the general population. Several factors that explain their susceptibility include the following:
- Ongoing need for medication
- Ongoing health problems
- Societal enabling
- Lack of identification of potential problems
Stress is another factor that can predispose individuals who live with chronic pain to addiction. Researchers have long identified a correlation between stress and substance abuse. Important facts about this link include the following:
- Stress is a major contributor to the initiation and continuation of substance abuse.
- Children who are exposed to severe stress are more vulnerable to substance abuse in adulthood.
- 30-60 percent of individuals with substance use disorders meet the criteria for comorbid PTSD.
- Patients with substance use disorders tend to suffer from more severe PTSD symptoms than PTSD patients without substance use disorders.
- Animals that are not previously exposed to illicit substances become more vulnerable to drug self-administration when stressed.
- Many of the same neurocircuits that respond to drugs also respond to stress.
Stress increases the release of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a hormone that catalyzes biological responses to stressors such as increased heart rate and metabolism. Abusing drugs also increases CRF levels and thereby heightens danger of relapse.
Stress also triggers the fight-or-flight moderating amygdala. When the amygdala perceives threats, it responds irrationally and hijacks the individual’s ability to think clearly. For people in recovery who stay sober by making wise choices, this emotional takeover can impair judgment and make resisting drugs harder.
There is yet another way that stress packs a double punch for people who suffer from Lyme disease. It exacerbates pain. A research team from Carnegie Mellon University found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the ability to regulate the body’s inflammatory response. This can lead to the development or progression of disease.
New Ways to Cope
Mastering stress reduction skills is an important part of overall health and sobriety. In treatment many people find ways to incorporate relaxation strategies into daily life. Several include the following:
- Spending time outdoors
- Adopting a dog
- Listening to music
- Taking a walk
- Soaking in a hot bath
Other stress-management skills and techniques frequently taught in recovery programs include the following:
- Avoiding hunger, anger, loneliness and fatigue
- Engaging in community service
- Journaling thoughts and feelings
- Practicing positive thinking
Experts at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also advise active self-monitoring of mood changes by keeping a list of personal warning signs. Additionally they suggest identifying enjoyable activities that generate positive feelings and could serve as a way to neutralize a craving or negative mood. The key is to pay attention to changes. Sleep disturbances, hopeless thoughts and appetite fluctuations are sometimes early relapse warning signs.
Getting Help for Lyme Disease and Addiction
If you or someone you love suffers from Lyme disease and addiction, help is available. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to a drug-free life. You don’t have to feel alone. Please call today.